1. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    How else to improve my writing.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by mrieder79, Dec 6, 2013.

    I write 1,000 words a day minimum and spend a minimum of 90 minutes a day reading. I have read On Writing by Steven King. Are there any other suggestions the more experiences writers have to improve the quality of my writing?
     
  2. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    You need feedback. I don't mean feedback where people tell you everything you did wrong and how they themselves would have written it, but feedback from other people as far as whether what you have written makes sense, is confusing, is boring, etc. Writing in a vacuum isn't completely helpful. You need to see whether you've really incorporated what you've learned from reading and writing. You need to know whether what you think you've communicated is really what is coming across.
     
  3. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    As much as this may be a little annoying, time plays a factor in this as well. My writing has improved tremendously over the past year, and although I'm sure it will slow down, I will not cease to improve, even when I'm 60. There will always be something new to learn.

    I suggest you have a look at the ways other writers write. You may not like most of the methods, but one small thing that they do you can apply to your own writing, and it should improve. It's all a matter of refining. :)
     
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  4. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    You need reading experience too. Try to imagine someone building a chair without knowing how the chair looks like, what are the minimum requirements for an object to be called a chair, and how many different shapes can a chair have! So taking a break from writing to go to a library: that's a good way to widen your perspectives.

    And ditch King: at least read what's available online when it comes to narrative techniques, voices, scenes, etc. A lot of great material is available nowadays without $$$. And even a How-to-write book might come in handy (others on this forum might disagree, but I'd say keep those books close, but not closer than a thesaurus: people tend to become religiously bound to them, as if they can resolve all issues and problems).

    And yeah, as Liz says: find feedback. At least a friend. Or your mother, for starts :p
     
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  5. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Read more than one 'how to write' book. You don't need to read every word, but writing advice is quite variable and you might fine different jewels in different author's words.

    Definitely one needs feedback, be it here, a critique group, or a beta reader. There are so many things one cannot see on their own pages that other readers will spot. The writer has so many more details of the story than get on the page, you need another reader without all that extra info to read your work. They can tell you if the story was clear or confusing, boring or interesting, but also little details like, I thought that character was female then he turned out to be male.
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    stop reading how-to books and start a constant reading diet of the best-written works by writers of what it is you want to write... plus the best-written works in other genres, just to get a sense of what good writing looks/reads/feels like...

    that's the best way to learn how to improve your own writing... by seeing how it's done by the best in the business... and 'best' does not = 'most popular'... king isn't even a very good writer, in a literary sense, he's just popular among readers who don't care if he's good or not, because they like the stories he tells...
     
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  7. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Critique. Nothing helps you correct your own mistakes like pointing out someone elses.
     
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  8. Man in the Box
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    Man in the Box Active Member

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    Be sure you get good beta readers. My current beta loves what I write, which puts me off because I know I'm not a genius. I only keep showing her my works because I haven't found someone else.
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    A man stopped a passing patrolman in Times Square. "Excuse me, can you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?"

    ...
     
  10. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    King is a great writer, and he has some useful insights, but half the book is a memoir and the other deals too often in in in generalities.

    Check out this article on writing the perfect scene. It covers one way of presenting POV that places the reader on the scene and in real time. I think you'll find it useful. And if it does make sense you might want to look into the book the article was based on, Dwight Swain's, Techniques of the Selling Writer. It's filled with the nuts and bolts issues that King's book never touched on.
     
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  11. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm going to agree with Mamma on this one. Every how-to book you read is going to tell you something different from the next how-to book - and authors will contradict each other right and left (I started reading some of these how-to books after I'd been writing for some time - that's when I knew I would have given up had I tried to make sense of all the conflicts before.). Read, write, do some more of both - then critique some other folks' work. Then crit your own work. Then get some feedback from others (objective others).
     
  12. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree, @mammamaia. But I must ask, what does 'best' equal? I would really like to know how one would judge something's quality in the 'literary' sense.
     
  13. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Unfortunately, there's no easy answer. One man's best might be another man's mediocre. The best you can hope for is to read a lot and in the process develop your own tastes.
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Don't try to learn writing from how-to books. Learn by reading fiction. Lots of fiction, in all genres, and read with purpose. Enjoy the reading, but also pay attention to technique. Notice not only what works, but what doesn't work, and why it succeeds or fails.
     
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  15. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    quality is always judged by comparison... if you compare the writing quality of a commonly acknowledged [by respected critics in the literary world] 'excellent' writer's novel to to one by a commonly acknowledged 'poor' writer, the difference should be clear to you...

    get a copy of any of steinbeck's novels and compare the writing quality with any of stephanie myer's or dan brown's and see if you still have trouble understanding how to judge what 'best' means, when applied to writing...

    or compare the works of carver and london to those of king and redfield and you should be able to see that 'popularity' and 'bestseller status' often has nothing to do with excellence of the writing, but only with the telling of stories lots of people want to read, despite so-so to downright poor quality writing...

    the quality of works by the 'greats'--the master wordsmiths--who've graced us with their genius shines so brightly, it can't go unnoticed or fail to impress, while that of popular schlockters' word-spewings is simply tolerated, in order to find out what happens next...
     
  16. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    When I first started writing, only a couple years ago, I got a dozen how to books from the library and scanned them all, taking a different one wherever I was going that I'd have any reading time. It's not that I learned how to write from any of them per se. But I got ideas, lots of them, and a lot of knowledge that I didn't have before. I also got feedback on what I was writing from a critique group. All those pieces fell into place. My writing went from pretty awful to, 'dang, I can actually write' over a couple years.

    The point is you don't read a how to write book and become a writer. You go out and start learning whatever you can, however you can, from anything and everything that might give you one more skill or insight. I found a lot of jewels in those how to write books.
     
  17. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's interesting.

    I think that a writer's objective would be complete if many people are reading and recommending their novels to others. You can argue that King or Redfield's writing is poor, but, like you say, only if you compare it to 'the masters of the craft.' Their books are definitely readable and consumable by the masses. Further, the two people in this example can also finish and edit entire novels, without wasting time on the internet (something I am very guilty of at this moment). So they're better than lots of other writers out there, just not the best.

    I think it is very worthwhile to analyze bestsellers, even Meyer and such. If you could learn nothing from their vocabulary and description, you would still learn suspense and character.

    If someone looks at my book and says: "Doesn't even make the bottom mark on the Carver/London/Hemmingway scale, I'm totally skipping this one." It's not going to bother me. I will pay attention when they say that my characters are paper thin, or that I misused a dozen semi-colons in the first chapter.

    Maybe I'm just shooting low, but I like to be realistic.
     
  18. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Reading "How to" write books can only give you the basics, enough to get started and pointed in the right direction.

    As others have said above, read good books.

    I will add read books you enjoy and re-read them. Study them. Observe how the author accomplished an area that you might be struggling with, such as dialogue or pacing or description. Then pick out another favorite author, and study to see how they accomplished the same thing. And maybe a third. Take notes and mark passages and compare.

    Then, take what you've learned and apply it to your current project and writing style.
     
  19. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    Several problems with that. First, is that this site, and all the other writing sites are filled with readers, all sincerely hoping to write stories that others will enjoy reading. We all read. So if that advice worked we would all be successful writers. And yet other then a tiny percentage we're not. And the rejection rate at the agent/publisher's office is 99.9+%

    There is no profession I know of where one can look at the finished product and see what the tools are that were used to create it, and how they were used. Watching TV didn't make us script writers and walking on carpets didn't teach us the skills of making, or even laying carpet. Why would writing fiction for the printed word be uniquely different?

    Creating anything is all about process. We can learn to judge the fitness and quality of finished work by viewing the product, of course, so reading is vital. But unless you know the tradeoffs and the necessities, the things to avoid and those to cling to, when the time comes to chose Path A or path B we won't have the knowledge necessary to make an informed decision.

    I don't present myself as an expert, or even a good writer. But that's not the point. If the hopeful writer can intuit the reasons for a given writer presenting one line in place of another, anyone should be able to read a scene of writing and know why it was written it as it was. But can you?

    To illustrate my point, I've deconstructed a scene from Samantha And the Bear to give the reasons why I did things and what my hope was, so far as influencing the reader. Read a bit and then look at the explanation to see if you caught everything. Because if you didn't, how much did you miss in reading commercial fiction.

    It doesn't matter if the writing is bad or good, or if what I did was the best way of accomplishing it. The point is that if you believe that you can learn to write by reading finished fiction you must have the ability to understand the whys so you can apply it (or avoid it) in your own work.
     
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  20. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, obviously that's an over-simplification of the advice. Reading alone will not make anyone a great or successful writer and nobody said it would. But reading how-to books before one has done enough writing already will do one thing - confuse the heck out of them. Why? Because those books were either written by English professors who will send people to distraction trying to keep all the terminology straight, or they're written by authors who will - guaranteed - contradict each other on most major points. And since so many new writers think that all this advice is actually a set of rules to live by, they run from one thing to another, thinking they'll fail if they don't follow those rules - except which ones?!

    Everything about the technical aspects of writing one should have learned in grade or high school. If not, a good grammar book and dictionary works. The rest is story-telling, and the best way to learn that is to read stories, write stories, and critique stories. Once you've got that under your belt, then look up some of these other books if you want. That's what I've done, and frankly, it's been an eye-opener. I've read advice that tells me I'm doing it right - and in the same book, found out I'm doing it wrong. But because I'd been writing for several years, and because I've been reading for several decades, I knew how stories work. I didn't need a book to explain it to me, and the explanations I've read since were just boring and over-complicated.

    There are some professions where book learning is mandatory; others, and I believe writing to be one of them, requires hands-on.
     
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  21. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I don't think Hemingway, Faulkner, Tolstoy, et al. ever read a how-to book, and I would say they're damn good writers. In fact, this whole how-to book craze is a relatively recent phenomenon. Another thing to keep in mind is that there is no authority when it comes to writing fiction. What you get when reading how-to books is one writer's opinion, that's all.
     
  22. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ditto that, tw!
     
  23. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    There are born artists just like there are born basketball greats like Michael Jordans and LeBron James. It's hardly comparable.

    What you get from reading a variety of how-to books is author's insight, not just opinion. I found Orson Scott Card's how-to-write books weren't useful for me, there was mostly common sense stuff. But for a brand new writer basic insight might be helpful. On the other hand I found Lisa Cron's, "Wired for Story," excellent for insight into examining the character's inner motivations. I also benefitted from reading the Sparknotes analysis of Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible. It helped me put symbolism in my book.

    Learn from anything and everything you can. If you pick up a how-to-write book and immediately say, this stuff's to formulaic or isn't telling me something I don't already know, put it down, go to the next one. If you get to the third one and it isn't helping, find something else to learn from.
     
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  24. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's true you just get one writer's opinion, and you have to keep that in mind. However, many of the writers of how to books have some pretty good opinions. I figure if you get even just one nugget of wisdom that resonates, it's worth it.
     
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  25. Fitzroy Zeph
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    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm just going through the early stages of the process and can't see how confusion would be avoidable. There are a lot of people who simply state -- read a lot. Telling me Tolstoy didn't use How To books is like telling me Columbus didn't buy world navigation charts, so neither should I if I plan on crossing the Atlantic by small boat. It's useless, if not dangerous advice. For me, it comes down to the question of who to trust. I usually ask, what is the agenda of the person trying to bestow their knowledge onto me? What are their credentials? What do I expect from them? What am I trying to learn?
    Exactly, precisely. And if the opinion is well presented, then I learn something and if that something keeps me from making a pile of mistakes, then that is time well spent.

    There is a small but highly useful book by Lin and Larry Pardey on heavy weather sailing storm tactics. Much is derived from personal experience. Trust me, I would not want to work those details out myself. It is basically a how to book. One can say, jeez, sailors have been heading out to sea for eons, and the bulk of them never had the wisdom or experience of the Pardey's to help them make decisions when all seems hopeless. You say that's different? I say it isn't. Would reading their book be the only thing I need to know before heading on a world cruise? Not even close, but it is still a darn good idea to include it.
     
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